Putting the ‘P’ in pest control

Animal urine will be used to make more effective traps for problematic pests like rats and brushtail possum in a research project from Victoria University of Wellington.

Possum in a tree

A team of scientists, led by Dr Wayne Linklater from Victoria’s School of Biological Sciences, has been awarded $1 million from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment to create ‘super-lure’ pest control technology.

The team has identified proteins and chemicals in rat and possum urine that act as pheromones and trigger an attraction in other animals. The proteins may bond to the chemicals to release them slowly, making them active for longer and suitable as lures.

“We can at least double the amount of contact time an animal has with a trap by using urine compounds, meaning an animal is more likely to be caught,” says Dr Linklater.

“Lures like peanut butter or cheese that have been used by people to trap pests like rats in their homes and businesses, farms, warehouses and factories, can be improved upon.”

The second phase of the project now turns to developing protein-chemical pairs as lures for traps. Various combinations of wild rat and mouse urinary proteins and chemicals will be tested to find the best pheromone attraction, in self-resetting traps from local company Goodnature.

Dr Linklater says effective traps are particularly important to our primary food industries struggling to eradicate pests, or wanting to guarantee that their facilities are pest-free.

“Rodents and brushtail possum carry diseases like Bovine Tb and Leptospirosis, which are a serious problem if they get into agricultural food production and processing systems. New pest-control technologies are needed to reduce those pest and disease risks to our export industries.”

There is also an international demand for pest control that is poison-free and more humane, says Dr Linklater.

“Currently, the most effective pest-controls require widespread and repeated use of poison. Our new invention offers New Zealand better economic and environmental returns.”